Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, has long displayed beluga whales and conducted extensive research on them. However, the facility has now embroiled itself in a controversial request to import five captive-born belugas from Marineland in Ontario, Canada, a facility that has long been the target of protests for its overcrowded exhibit conditions. Marineland holds more belugas than any other facility in the world—over 50, with some wild-caught and many captive-born.
This importation request is especially problematic because the wild-caught belugas at Marineland were captured from a population that has been designated as depleted under US law. This means importing these animals and their descendants for public display is illegal. There is an exemption for research, but they will also be on display, as Mystic Aquarium has no dedicated research facilities. Mystic says it will also allow the whales to breed (not for research, which means the offspring will be for display).
In addition, Mystic Aquarium may send some of these five belugas or their offspring to Georgia Aquarium eventually. Georgia Aquarium infamously attempted to import 18 wild-caught belugas from Russia several years ago and actually went to court in an attempt to overturn the government’s decision to deny its importation request. The aquarium lost, with a blistering ruling from the judge chastising this supposed conservation organization for trying to spin the data that show the source population was well below historical levels. It is disturbing that Mystic Aquarium is partnering with this facility.
AWI has mounted a coordinated campaign to stop Mystic Aquarium from opening a loophole that will almost certainly be exploited by facilities who really want belugas for breeding and display, but will claim they want them for research. The United States should not trade in live belugas at all, let alone those from a depleted population, and certainly not by abusing legal exemptions.